Holloway and his dog, Carl, arrived home to discover their house had been invaded by a creature that looked like a cat. Carl, barking madly, treed the Cat Thing on top of the bookcases. Holloway wrestled Carl out of the door, studied the situation for awhile, offered the creature some food, and sat back to observe.
". . . what interested him the most was the way the animal was acting. The cat thing was obviously terrified, but it wasn't acting like a terrified animal. It seemed like it was smarter than the average wild animal, especially here on Zara XXIII, where the local fauna never struck Holloway as having developed an evolutionary premium on brains.
Also the thing looked like a cat, and Holloway always liked cats. Holloway's internal sensible person smacked his virtual forehead at that.
Holloway took the papers he'd collected, tapped them together, and placed them on his work desk, glancing up at the cat thing. It was busily devouring the bindi slice as if it hadn't eaten in days. . . . The cat thing . . . kept glancing from Holloway to the two remaining bindi slices. The thing was obviously still hungry and trying to figure out how to get to the bindi without getting near Holloway. Holloway reached over, picked up one of the bindi slices, and slowly moved it toward the animal, . . .
"Here you go," Holloway said. . .
The cat thing . . . appeared dubious about this new development and shrank back from the proffered slice.
"Come on, now," Holloway said to the thing. "If I was going to kill you and eat you, I would have done it already."
After a few seconds the cat thing cautiously moved forward, apparently hesitant, and then snatched at the slice, using both hands. And they were hands; Holloway noted three fingers and a thumb . . . Holloway blinked and the little hands were gone as the creature retreated to its far corner, never taking its eyes off Holloway as it began to devour its second bindi slice.
[after spending a while getting used to each other, Holloway decided it was time to reintroduce Carl, who had been barking incessantly throughout.]
Holloway retrieved a dog collar and leash from the drawer (and went out the door) . . .
Carl took in the collar and the leash and glanced up at Holloway, as if to say, What the hell?
"Trust me," Holloway said to Carl. "Heel!"
Carl was frustrated, but he was also well-trained; any dog that could wait for an order to detonate explosives was one that knew how to listen to its master. He reluctantly came down from the window and stood next to Holloway.
"Stay," Holloway said, and walked back the length of the lease. Carl stayed. Holloway glanced over at the cat thing, which seemed to be taking this all in with interest.
"Sit," Holloway said to his dog. Carl actually glanced over to the cabin window and then back at Holloway, as if to say Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the new guy. But he sat, an almost inaudible whine escaping as he did so.
"Down," Holloway said. Carl lay down, dejectedly. His humiliation was complete.
"Heel," Holloway said again and Carl got up and stood by his master. Holloway was still looking at the cat thing, which had watched the whole event. Holloway slid his hand along the leash so that Carl was close by his side, and started walking toward the door of the cabin. The cat thing stared but didn't move.
Holloway opened the door to the cabin but stayed outside with Carl for a minute. Carl got ready to burst through the doorway but Holloway cinched Carl close, compelling him to heel. Carl whined but then quickly calmed down. He had figured out how this was going to go.
The two of them walked slowly through the doorway. The cat thing remained on the desk, eyes wide but not making any panicky movements.
"Good dog," Holloway said to Carl, and walked him right in front of the desk. "Sit," Carl sat.
"Down," Holloway said. Carl lay.
"Roll over," Holloway said.
Holloway swore he heard his dog sigh. Carl rolled on his back and lay there, paws up, looking at the cat thing.
The cat thing sat there for a moment, looking at the open door and then back at the dog. Then it walked over to the edge of the desk and slid itself down into the chair. Carl made to move himself into an upright position, but Holloway laid his hand on his dog's chest. "Stay," he said. Carl stayed.
The cat thing slid off the chair and onto the floor less than a foot from Carl's muzzle. The two animals regarded each other curiously; the cat thing glanced up and down Carl's prone form while Carl, for his part, snuffled madly, trying to process every last particle of the cat thing's scent.
The cat thing edged closer and then oh-so-very-carefully reached out a hand toward Carl's muzzle. Holloway surreptitiously put a little more pressure on Carl's chest with one hand and tightened his grip on the leash with his other, ready if Carl overreacted.
The cat thing touched Carl's muzzle, withdrew its hand slightly, and then touched it again, stroking it softly. It did this for several seconds. From the other side of Carl, his tail thumped lightly.
"There it is," Holloway said. "See, that's not so bad."
Carl turned his head a bit, flicked out his tongue, and gave the cat thing a very wet slurp across the face. The creature backed up, sputtering indignantly, and tried to wipe off its face. Holloway laughed, Carl's tail thumped more.
The cat thing's head snapped up suddenly, . . . looked at Holloway, then at the door. It bolted and was out of the cabin and gone.
After a minute, Holloway took the collar off Carl, . . . and gave his dog a biscuit.
. . . "Good dog," Holloway said. Carl thumped his tail and then lay down to focus on his treat."
My first John Scalzi. I think I love him already.